Sep 24, 2020

Breonna Taylor's justice.

Breonna Taylor's justice.

The arguments over the grand jury's decision.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 13 minutes.

We’re covering the grand jury decision not to charge the cops that killed Breonna Taylor. As is typical when a major story like this hits, I’m skipping the reader question today to give it appropriate space without making the newsletter too long.

Protesters in New York City embrace. Photo: Eva Woolridge

Reader feedback.

Several readers wrote in with different reactions to my decision not to use “Latinx” in yesterday’s newsletter. Here are two opposing views:

"Latinx is stupid," Walter who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina but was raised in Brazil, said. "As we have adopted the Spanish word, we should work with the Spanish word. Latina is a woman, Latino is a man and Latinos are everybody (it is a patriarchal language and when talking about both genders together the masculine word is used, but it is a natural thing in these languages). If they want a neutral term they could call us Latins. In English. It means (originally) something a little different, but at least it means something …Or use Latinos as the collective adjective: The Latinos vote (meaning the votes from Latinos and Latinas), rather than Latino vote. But I think we have more important stuff right now."

Paul from Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, said that just because the majority of a people don't identify with a term doesn't mean it shouldn't be used. “Latinx is utilized as a more inclusive term that recognizes there is diversity in gender and culture within the Hispanic, Latinx, and Chicanx communities,” he said. “It’s why we use words like ‘folkx.’ It may not make as much sense within a speech, podcast, or translated into Spanish. To me, if you’re making a statement about a cultural group, why not make the additional effort and switch the ‘o’ to an ‘x?’ What’s the harm in using more inclusive language? Also, let’s not forget the importance of signifying the end of the binary within gender. Transgender and gender non-conforming people continue to be forgotten about in large parts of the country. Using terminology that makes people feel seen and heard validate their many frustrations with modern society. And it’s minimal effort for writers like you.”

Quick hits.

  1. President Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power yesterday during a White House press briefing. “We are going to have to see what happens,” Trump said when asked by a reporter. Mitch McConnell and several Republicans have since pledged there will be a peaceful transfer of power if Trump loses.
  2. Senate Republicans released a report on their probe into Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine. The report is largely a compilation of rehashed information, with new information detailing how Obama officials were concerned about Hunter’s position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father tried to execute diplomacy with Ukraine.
  3. Democrats are making a major pivot to voting in-person. Initially, Democrats had been pushing their voters to cast a vote by mail-in ballot, but new concerns over thrown out and delayed ballots have the party backpedaling, and Democrats in close races are now encouraging their supporters to use drop boxes, vote early and vote in person instead of mailing their ballots in.
  4. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is signing an executive order to eliminate the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. Gas-powered cars won’t be prohibited, and owners of gas-powered vehicles will be able to resell them, but new car sales will only be allowed if they are electric.
  5. A new 2020 election narrative is emerging: What about a Joe Biden blowout? As the polls remain remarkably stable, some pollsters are wondering if a Joe Biden blowout — and total control of the federal government for Democrats — is just as plausible as a narrow Trump victory.

What D.C. is talking about.

Breonna Taylor. Yesterday, a Kentucky grand jury ruled that two officers involved in the raid where Taylor was shot to death were justified for firing their weapons into her apartment because it was an act of self-defense. A third officer, Brett Hankison, was charged with “wanton endangerment” for recklessly firing rounds through Taylor’s apartment and into apartment units next door, including one that was occupied by a pregnant woman. The announcement comes about a week after the city of Louisville settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Taylor’s family for $12 million, while also pledging to reform the process for getting a search warrant, and make changes to Louisville Police’s policies to help build connections to the community, as well as changes that will make officers more accountable and their actions more transparent.

Taylor, who was 26, was killed on March 13th after police used a battering ram to enter her apartment. Louisville PD had been monitoring Taylor because they suspected her ex-boyfriend, a man named Jamarcus Glover, was using her apartment to deliver drugs. 60 officers participated in five raids across Louisville that night, all related to the same drug case. In three of those raids, all executed with warrants signed by the same judge, officers recovered crack, fentanyl, cash and guns. Glover was also arrested that same night at another location.

On the night of the raid, inside her apartment, Taylor was sleeping alongside her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. Just one officer entered Taylor’s apartment, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. The details of his entrance are hotly contested. Police say they identified themselves several times before ramming the door in, while Walker says he and Taylor asked repeatedly who was there with no response before the door blew open. Police were approved for a “no-knock” warrant, but recent reporting indicates the officers were instructed to “knock-and-announce” at Taylor’s home. That means they were required to identify themselves. The New York Times interviewed 12 witnesses on the scene and just one said they heard police identify themselves. Similarly, the Louisville PD has only produced a single witness besides police who says they heard the officers announce themselves.

When the door burst open, Walker, who legally owns a firearm, shot Mattingly once in his leg. He said later he thought it was Glover forcing his way in — a scenario he worried about because of Glover’s history of run-ins with the law (and his past relationship with Taylor). In response, three officers on the scene fired a combined 32 shots into Taylor’s apartment. 10 of those shots were fired by Hankison, who was terminated in June, and is the only officer facing any charges now. Taylor was hit at least six times and died on the scene. Walker was uninjured. No drugs or cash were found in the apartment.

Taylor’s death has been central to the movement for police reform and racial justice happening across the country over the last year. “Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” and “say her name” are common refrains at protests and on social media. In the wake of the announcement, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Louisville. Peaceful marches during the afternoon and evening turned tense as a citywide curfew approached. Around 8:30 p.m. last night, two officers were shot when responding to reports of shots fired in a large crowd. Both officers suffered non life-threatening injuries, the police chief said. Details of the shooting are still unclear.

More protests also took place in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Minnesota, and are expected to continue this week.


Folks on the right and left both worry about police using unannounced forced entry in situations like this. Center-right libertarians have been harping on police reforms to address these kinds of raids since the 1970s. Several conservatives have argued that while the decision not to indict the officers based on the law is accurate, the law itself is broken. There does seem to be an overarching sense of an injustice, though many on the right have focused more on the civil unrest, the danger of policing or the inadequacy of the law than the individual actions of the police officers.

What the right is saying.

The right was supportive of the officers not being indicted, though still expressing concerns about these kinds of raids. The Wall Street Journal editorial board praised Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is Black, for announcing the single charge with a dose of empathy while explaining the facts and law of the case. “At a time when Americans have watched too many public officials abdicate their responsibilities to uphold the law,” the board wrote, “Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Wednesday proved to be an encouraging exception.”

“Mr. Cameron said he knows many won’t be happy with this decision, not least the protesters in Louisville who clashed with cops after they heard the news. But he insisted that the system operate on facts, evidence and the law, not ‘emotion or outrage.’ He also confirmed another fact that had been misreported: The police did knock and announce themselves, and they had a civilian witness to corroborate it.”

In The Dispatch, David French said — after doing a deep dive into the law of the case — that he’s come to “a singular and depressing conclusion: Supreme Court precedents killed Breonna Taylor. These court precedents have killed before. And while there is an outside chance that an individual officer may be held legally responsible for her death, the prime movers here are the forces the court has set into motion, and unless there are substantial legal reforms, those precedents will kill again.”

French notes that police used a general profile of drug traffickers (that they often ship drugs to separate locations) along with a single event (that surveillance once showed Glover getting a package from Taylor’s home) to justify the warrant. “There is zero specific information alleging misconduct by Taylor, and it was her apartment that was the target of the raid,” he said. French points to Wilson v. Arkansas, a Supreme Court case that created a broad exception to “knock and announce” laws, which say police must peacefully knock and announce their presence before serving a warrant.

The law “did not apply, the court held, in circumstances where police feared violence, a suspect had escaped from custody and was seeking refuge in his home, and when police feared the destruction of evidence. The potential for abuse was obvious. And sure enough… officers began to allege that ‘all drug dealers are a threat to dispose of evidence, flee or assault the officers at the door.’”

In her newsletter, former National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch came to the defense of Taylor’s boyfriend and said the charges against Hankison were appropriate. “One of the first things I ever learned when I began regularly taking self defense firearm courses is to 1) know your target and 2) know what’s behind your target. Firing into vertical blind-covered windows is neither of these things and not just a stated violation of Louisville Police Department policy, but also of gun training, period,” she wrote.

“Kentucky has both Castle Doctrine and a stand your ground law — meaning you can protect yourself without duty to retreat… By all accounts Walker was well within his rights as a legal gun owner woken up in the middle of the night to loud noises… No-knock raids coupled with Castle Doctrine are a legal paradox and concerning threat to the right of self defense... It’s completely possible that the officers announced and Walker didn’t hear them. It’s possible to believe that he thought it was a home invasion or robbery.”

In Reason Magazine, Jacob Sullum made the Libertarian case in this shooting, arguing that drug prohibition was the issue. He wrote that it “followed a sadly familiar pattern.”

“Hankison and two other plainclothes officers broke into Taylor's home around 12:40 a.m., awakening her and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who mistook the armed invaders for robbers,” he wrote. “This sort of operation is inherently dangerous because the same tactics that police use to catch their targets off guard, in the hope of preventing resistance, predictably lead to that very result as residents exercise their constitutional right to armed self-defense. That scenario has played out again and again in cities across the country for decades.”

“The problem is the attempt to forcibly prevent Americans from consuming arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants, which is fundamentally immoral because it sanctions violence as a response to peaceful conduct that violates no one's rights,” he said. “That problem cannot be solved by tinkering at the edges of drug prohibition.”

What the left is saying.

The left was supportive of the city’s settlement with Taylor but infuriated that there were no serious charges against the cops who killed her. In The New York Times, Melanye Price wrote that it “hurts to keep hoping for justice.” Price criticized Attorney General Daniel Cameron who, in announcing the lack of charges, insisted that “mob justice is not justice” while pleading for the city to remain calm.

“All Ms. Taylor’s family wanted, and all many of the protesters wanted, is for the Constitution and the mechanism of justice to work for them the way it works for others,” Price said. “Mr. Cameron, who is Black, should know that to suggest that protesters are nothing but a mob dehumanizes the people calling for justice and respect. And it reminds African-Americans of the way we’re so often unfairly portrayed as perpetrators of crime, and so rarely seen as victims. Police officers who kill citizens are rarely convicted. But in this tragic situation, in which the woman killed was not only unarmed but asleep in the moments before a police officer took her life, we hoped that for once, justice would be on our side. This is yet another disappointing reminder that it’s not.”

The Washington Post editorial board praised Louisville’s settlement with Taylor’s family, noting that the city voted to end no-knock warrants, implemented a system to flag officers who repeatedly violate standards and encouraged officers to live in the communities where they police.

“These are welcome measures that may do much good, particularly if they are accompanied by robust accountability efforts that ensure the reforms aren’t walked back after the national gaze turns elsewhere,” the board wrote. “Still, there is so much a settlement like this cannot do: It cannot change the fact that Black women too often have lethal brushes with the law, simply because of the company they have once kept; it cannot change the fact that too many cases are ignored, as Ms. Taylor’s case could easily have been without the tireless efforts of advocates; and it cannot bring her back.”

CNN’s Laura Coates expressed disbelief that charges for excessive force were seemingly not even considered. Officers fired more than 30 rounds, she argued, and an “evaluation of a use of force case requires more than a distillation of provocation. It requires an evaluation of the reasonableness of the amount of force used, and whether the officers used more force than was necessary to neutralize the threat.”

“The fact that Taylor, who neither held nor fired a gun at the officers, was the ultimate recipient of that lethal force underscores the true tragedy,” Coates wrote. “Disturbingly, it seems her death was summarily dismissed as collateral damage. The mere phrase ‘collateral damage’ evokes a visceral reaction. But so does the realization that they decided to prosecute an officer for prospective loss of life, but none of the officers for the actual loss of life. It confounds the mind as much as the soul. But until there is a judicial reassessment of how we evaluate the reasonableness of an officer's use of lethal force, it is justice that will end up being collateral damage.”

My take.

I’m going to confess to something I’ve never written publicly and (for reasons that will become obvious) feel quite wary about writing now.

When I was in college, I spent about two full semesters selling pot. The contours of how and why I landed there could fill a book, but the core reasons were the same as they are for many drug dealers across the United States: I was young, arrogant and it was an easy way to make a little extra money. I already had two jobs, one helping an elderly woman run her landscaping company and another at the school paper. I had my parents helping support me financially through college. I also had easy access to weed from someone I met on campus and a small group of friends I thought I could sell pot to without getting in trouble.

When I read Breonna Taylor’s story — a story of a woman who was raised by a single teenage mother while her dad sat in prison, who lived in an area with high concentrations of crime, who had been running from a troubled and complicated relationship with a drug dealer, who had finally found a healthy partnership with her new boyfriend, who was well on her way to becoming an EMT — I thought of myself. “Graduating this year on time is so important to me because I will be the first in my family to accomplish this,” Taylor wrote in her senior year scrapbook. “I want to be the one who finally breaks the cycle of my family’s educational history. I want to be the one to finally make a difference.”

I think about how I did the opposite. I was handed stability and a safety net on a silver platter. I reached out to find trouble out of little more than greed, youthful angst and the thrill of living a bit outside the law. I wonder about what I would have done, how I would have responded, had I been dealt the same cards Taylor was.

There’s no evidence Breonna Taylor ever sold drugs. There’s no evidence she ever did anything against the law — ever. Her record is completely clean. And even if she had, there’s certainly no legal or moral justification for what happened to her. Forget Taylor for a moment. Consider me: I did commit a crime. I did break the law. Repeatedly. Gleefully. I did the actual thing she was suspected of being an accomplice in doing — and look how I turned out. Instead of cops kicking down my door, arresting me, or blasting 32 shots into my apartment, I got support and love and a little bit of luck and now you’re reading a politics newsletter I built on a decade of work and professional experience.

Breonna Taylor should not be dead. The police in this case made more mistakes than I can name, and there should be serious repercussions for those mistakes. For one, they blew the surveillance of her home. They didn’t know she was with her boyfriend (the police said they thought she was an unarmed woman alone inside). Despite the fact they were staking out her apartment, they didn’t see her and Walker walk in together after dinner. Maybe the cops were texting, maybe they abandoned their post, maybe they were distracted. But they failed.

They also sent the ambulance stationed outside the apartment home before the raid, so Taylor had no chance of being revived at the scene after being shot. And, perhaps most jarringly, just contrast their actions to Walker’s: a man sees his door being kicked in by unknown intruders (Walker called 911 after the shooting, frantically screaming that “somebody kicked in the door” and had shot his girlfriend, apparently still not understanding what had happened), and he unloads a single shot into the officer’s leg — not even a fatal shot, but a targeted one.

In response, the trained police officers fire 32 times — 32! — into and through Taylor’s apartment and into two adjacent apartments as well, both occupied by tenants who were home at the time of the shooting. How does one justify something like this? Self-defense? What about Walker’s self-defense? Yet only he had the cool head to fire a single shot into the leg of an intruder breaking into his home. How does his act of self-defense compare to the Louisville PD’s, who responded by shooting an unarmed woman at least six times as they peppered her apartment (and her neighbors’) with 32 shots?

When protesters march in the streets screaming “No justice, no peace,” the “justice” they’re talking about isn’t simply arresting the cops who are apparently so bad at their jobs that they can’t execute a basic search warrant without killing an (innocent) suspect and risking the lives of her neighbors.

They’re also talking about the systemic outcomes here — the fact that a White kid from suburban Pennsylvania like me, handed opportunity at every corner, who spends a year selling drugs at his state university, is thriving, while an innocent Black woman like Breonna Taylor, doing everything she can to climb out of a difficult life circumstance, is dead.

They’re talking about the fact that the Louisville Police Department actually charged Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker for shooting a single shot at a cop’s leg, after they killed Taylor, until public pressure forced the city to drop those charges. They’re talking about the fact that right now, as we speak, armed militias of broad-shouldered Kentuckians, a band of military wannabes in army fatigues, are marching unimpeded through the streets of Louisville with long guns, while Black Lives Matter protesters are met by riot police. They’re talking about the fact that Brett Hankison, the officer charged for “wanton endangerment,” also has a record of sexual assault allegations against him and is currently being sued for harassing suspects and planting drugs on them, though you probably don’t know that since it’s gotten far less coverage than Taylor’s prior association with an alleged drug dealer. They’re talking about the fact that the lawsuit didn’t stop Hankison from staying on his job as a police officer up until the night he blindly fired 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment complex.

They’re talking about the fact that the other officers in Taylor’s case still have their jobs. That Hankison will likely be rehired or reassigned in a couple of years, once this all blows over, despite the fact he’s clearly not capable of doing his job properly. And despite the fact that he is literally a threat to public safety.

That’s the injustice. That’s the horror show of the system that minority and low-income Americans live in while many of us watch from the rafters. And until people are willing to wake up to it and go to bat for real criminal justice reforms, you’ll be hearing the echoes of “no justice, no peace” through the streets. And I’ll have a hard time disagreeing.

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A story that matters.

Republican strategists are trying to help get Green Party candidates on the ballot in Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania. While the effort is viewed as dirty politics on the left, the conservative strategists believe it’s a fair game late-stage election strategy to give liberal voters options other than Joe Biden. So far, campaigns in Wisconsin, Montana and Western Pennsylvania have all failed to get Green Party candidates on the ballot. This is not the first time Republicans have tried to rally support for a Green Party push. The Times is reporting for the first time that in 2016, billionaire Trump donor Billi Marcus supported Jill Stein’s Green Party effort, though it’s unclear what the content of that support was. In Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton lost by 44,292 votes in 2016, Stein received 49,941 votes.


  • $3.5 million. The amount of money Hunter Biden received in a wire transfer from Elena Baturina, the richest woman in Russia, according to a Senate intelligence report.
  • $477,000. The amount of money the Trump campaign spent on a fireworks display during the Republican convention, less than it has paid its top pollster.
  • 88%. The percentage of Americans who say that they have heard about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.
  • 52%. The percentage of Americans who say that the choice of the next Supreme Court Justice is very important to them personally.
  • 26%. The percentage of Americans who say that they would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
  • 53%. The percentage of Americans who say that they would not like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
  • 59%. The percentage of Americans who think the winners of the November election should appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.
  • 41%. The percentage of Americans who think Donald Trump should appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.
  • 59%. The percentage of Americans saying they’ll probably or definitely watch the first presidential debate.
  • 32%. The percentage of Americans saying they’ll probably or definitely not watch the first presidential debate.
  • 4%. The percentage of likely voters who said they favored Libertarian Party presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen in a new CNBC poll.

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Have a nice day.

A nun in Chicago completed a marathon to raise money for the city’s poor — from her basement. Sister Stephanie Baliga was planning to run the Chicago marathon, but when she realized it might be canceled, she made a promise to her running team that she’d complete the marathon on a treadmill in the basement of her convent. Her plan was to raise money for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels’ food pantry. When a friend got wind of it, she told Baliga that it was not a normal thing to do — and that she should let other people know about it. So Baliga live-streamed the run on Zoom and asked viewers to donate. “As she ran, she prayed the rosary, she prayed for her supporters, and above all, she prayed for the people who have contracted the virus, and for those isolated during the COVID-19 crisis,” The Associated Press reported. In the final stretch, 2004 Olympic Bronze medalist Deena Kastor tuned in to cheer Baliga on. She finished in 3 hours and 33 minutes, which she submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records as a treadmill marathon record. And she raised $130,000.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.